The interview taken by Yan Kulakov from CS-Cart. CS-Cart is world’s renowned multi-vendor e-commerce service provider. We’re sharing the interview as it is on their website.
Hello! Yan from CS-Cart here.
Recently, we have found out about a large online marketplace in Bangladesh called Cellsii.com. This marketplace is based on our multi-vendor platform CS-Cart Multi-Vendor. What’s interesting about this project that it began not so long ago—in 2018—and immediately gained popularity in the country. The marketplace is pretty big now with almost 10,000 products (the catalog grows daily) and 63,000 Facebook fans. But the marketplace owner S.M. Mamunur Rasid still calls it a startup.
We have contacted S.M. Mamunur Rasid and asked them to tell their business story: how they made a decision to create an online marketplace in such a competitive environment, how they started, and what challenges they overcame. This interview will come in handy for all the startuppers who building their own eCommerce business and still have doubts and concerns. Have no more!
— How did you start and from what? What’s the background of your marketplace?
I sold the first product at the beginning of 2016 from a Facebook page. I was still doing a job in a private organization. At the same time, also engaged with different freelance works related to digital marketing, content, website, etc. That is how life could have been passed quite well. But I always wanted to do something on my own. In 2005, during my student life, got my first part-time job in a daily newspaper to update their news content and freelance report writing about ICT. Gathered primary experiences on content, digital marketing, web tools from there, which had helped me a lot further to understand different aspects of business, especially eCommerce business.
I was not associated with any offline shop or business. There was no chance at all. I feel comfortable doing works or anything online. At the beginning of 2016, for the first time imported some products from abroad and advertised on Facebook, and managed to sell a hand bracelet. That was an amazing experience. I still can remember that moment of the first sale. Then launched an eCommerce website in 2017. The site was slowly getting richer. I quit my job in December 2017 and started a full-time business in the new year of 2018.
— How did you actually make a decision to start such a big online project? I mean, it’s not an easy job neither it’s an easy decision to launch an online marketplace.
In 2012, I started a digital marketing service on a freelance basis and served more than 500 small and large organizations and individual entrepreneurs. While doing this job, I learned about many established companies and entrepreneurs who have little idea about digital marketing, business web tools, and technics though it is very important. But I had no money to launch a business of my own. Started from zero! Only had a dream of doing something. Then determined some goals and objectives:
- The project can go slowly
- Each and every work will be done carefully
- Dealing with a customer will be 100% transparent and honest
- From one or two products, it will be thousands, will exceed millions.
- From one or two customers it will be innumerable.
That’s how it started.
— What were the main reasons to launch a marketplace? What problems did you aim to solve with a marketplace?
I had a tendency to find out solutions to any problem through technology. Dhaka is one of the busiest cities in the world. I find no reason in going to a shopping center after crossing a terrible traffic jam. Moreover, people are very busy these days. So online shopping is a simpler solution. Though the e-commerce journey started long ago in Bangladesh, very few e-commerce, f-commerce work with the commitment. Delivery of quality products to the customer at the fastest time with a competitive market price is a big challenge. Cellsii.com sets a goal to focus on these particular aspects.
— How did you plan the launch? I mean, did you invent a strict business plan, marketing strategies, define your final goals? How did you do all this and how much time did it take?
Nothing happened under a strict business plan. I follow “Go slowly and steadily”. Our product selection process focuses on quality issues rather than only sales volume and always tries to deal honestly and fairly with all our valued customers. We work for building a relationship with the customer, not just a customer-seller deal. These are the business motto.
— What difficulties and challenges did you face in the initial stage before actually launching the marketplace to the full? Finding sellers? Meeting law regulations maybe?
It took more than a year when started knowing the ins and outs of the product, product sourcing, finding the right vendor, where to go, which product will be available at the lowest price, customer demand, customer behavior, etc. From the beginning to the present, a certain time of the day is spent for market analysis. It is a very big field of work and it takes a lot of time, effort, and talent to understand each and every segment of it. Once some things were settled, it was a big challenge to coordinate them all.
Whether focus only on a specific category or work with verities, there was confusion. Initially it only worked with smart gadgets but later it started to focus on few more categories. However, only quality products are given priority in all categories till now. Above all, getting the product to the customer in the fastest time is very challenging here. Setting up your own delivery system is a very complex task.
— Did the launch go smoothly? What new challenges did you face after the launch? Was it marketing and popularization of the marketplace or something else?
Of course, the beginning was not easy at all. The field of work there was very large. Everything from set-up the server to marketing, customer care, ensuring the delivery, etc., All these tasks needed comprehensive coordination. We focus more on organic growth rather than paid marketing and follow the necessary practices to popularize the marketplace.
— How soon did you begin to earn with the marketplace after the launch (if you’re already getting profit)? Do you think you could start getting profit earlier?
It is very difficult to start making a profit overnight by launching an e-commerce business. Sometimes that is impossible. Excluding the office rent, staff salary, marketing cost, and related expenses, sometimes it might be very difficult to survive for an e-commerce startup. A lot of things can be easier if you have previous experience in the market and products. If you can handle the marketplace website without hassle, capable to do marketing efficiently, have a well business plan, and minimize overhead cost, it is possible to make a profit in less time.
— What big mistakes did you make running your marketplace? How would you avoid these mistakes now?
The overhead cost of an online marketplace can be almost double that of any offline shop if it is not minimized. But the profit margin from a product will remain the same in both online and offline businesses. It is difficult to survive if someone makes a mistake in this equation. In the beginning, renting an office in the most expensive area of the city was a big mistake for us. It was assumed that the ROI would start coming very soon and the cost-benefit would be adjusted. But the realities were different.
— What would you advise your less experienced colleagues-marketplace owners so that their marketplaces prosper?
Need to know the target market and the marketing very well. Build a hassle-free website so that you can concentrate more on your core business, keep the site up to date with the latest technologies, features and with the fastest server which will help you grow faster. Giving utmost importance to deliver the product to the customer in the fastest time. And gaining the trust of the customer by adopting all sorts of approaches. These are the key to a successful e-commerce start-up.